I wrote the following immediately after the U.S. elections. It’s not so much a reaction to the results as it is a meditation on the bigger picture, on what’s behind those results.
My country is surrendering its freedom. The erosion of values grounded in the teachings of Jesus (the two-sided coin of freedom and responsibility) has left an ideological vacuum that extremists are anxious to fill.
Two big-personalities entered the presidential race last year. On the surface they appeared to be at opposite ends of the spectrum: One, a feisty Jewish grandpa, represented the protective pull of socialism, the other, a larger-than-life blusterer, represented the reflexive response of nationalism. But what they had in common was that each brought with him a ready-made ideology to fill that abhorrent vacuum. The grandpa was set aside to make room for a more mainstream former president’s wife, but her support from disparate minorities lacked the zeal to drive her to the finish line. So the blusterer shot through as the last-hope champion of the middle class, the one who would save “us” from “them.”
But the political spectrum isn’t a line that runs from left to right. It’s a wheel. And the two most extreme candidates conjoin at a spot called authoritarianism. In the new ideology-free America, the call is no longer for “someone who stands for what we believe in” but “someone who will tell us what to believe in.” It’s no longer government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but government of, by, and for The Leader. What Leader? Any authoritarian narcissist who can give us what we want.
Are we the next Weimar Republic, the weak, loosely-confederated democracy that ruled Germany after World War I? Have we, like they, appointed as Chancellor a demagogue who will concentrate more and more power in himself, egged on by a slap-happy middle class? Or is he too weak and cartoonish a Leader to pull that off? Will he and the current majority fail to produce the “great” America they promised, resulting in a lurch in the opposite direction? Will the grandpa, or some other paternalistic figure, usher in a socialist version of authoritarianism that demands an equal surrender of freedom and responsibility?
Freedom and responsibility. The two words are inseparable—the latter secures the former. And then there’s that word “secures” again. As soon as We the People allow someone other than ourselves to make us secure, we surrender our responsibility. And as soon as we surrender our responsibility…
we surrender our freedom.